Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was one of the great composers of the classical era in music that is associated with Vienna, the others being Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.
Schubert, who was born in a suburb of Vienna, was the fourth son of a schoolmaster. At age 5, he learned the violin from his father and the piano from an older brother. Because of Schubert’s excellent voice, at age 11 he became one of the Vienna Choir Boys at the Imperial Chapel. By the age of 16, Schubert wrote an opera, a series of quartets, and his Symphony No. 1.
Shortly afterward, he left Vienna’s Imperial Chapel and began teacher training to become a schoolmaster. However, Schubert’s genius lay in musical creativity, and between 1813 and 1818 he had a surge of creativity where he wrote five symphonies, six operas, and 300 “Lieder” songs, a term which is usually used to describe songs composed to a German poem.
While in the midst of all this creative composing, Schubert found teaching in a classroom to be too boring and in 1816 at age 19 he gave up teaching at the schoolhouse of his father and moved to Vienna where he devoted himself to composition, focusing on orchestral and choral works. During this creative activity, Schubert’s health deteriorated. He died at the age of thirty-one after a brief unconfirmed illness.
Rondo in A for Violin and Strings was written in June 1828, and may well have been intended to form a two-movement sonata along the lines of Beethoven’s E minor Sonata.
It is lovingly modeled on the lyrical finale of Beethoven’s sonata: his theme follows a similar harmonic pattern, and even the keyboard layout of its opening bars, with the melody’s initial phrase followed by a more assertive answer in octaves, echoes Beethoven’s.
Schubert mirrors Beethoven’s procedure, too, by transferring the final reprise of the Rondo theme to the sonorous tenor register, with a continuous pattern of semiquavers unfolding above it.
But Schubert’s composition is far from a slavish imitation, and it can more than hold its own against Beethoven’s. Particularly beautiful is the manner in which one of the important subsidiary themes returns towards the end, surmounted by a shimmering pianissimo accompaniment in repeated chords from the primo player.
Rondo in A for Violin and Strings was published in December 1828, less than a month after Schubert died.
Rondo in A for Violin and Strings
Performed by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman, Conductor